The first ALOA (Associated Locksmiths of America) convention that I attended was in 1988 and held in Las Vegas. It shared the Las Vegas Hilton with the premier of “Elvis: An American Musical,” which would run for two years at the Hilton and then go on to tour the county. Even though I was 37 at the time, I had never been to Las Vegas, and I had spent most of my adult life in Florida. I had lived mostly in Pensacola with a few years in Gainesville, to get my BS degree from the University of Florida. (Not that it matters, but I got my degree in Zoology in 1979.) I was certainly not a “seasoned traveler,” and for me, being in Las Vegas was almost overwhelming. Add that to the fact that everywhere you went in the hotel, there were people dressed as Elvis, and it was almost too much for a Florida boy like me! At one point, I found myself in an elevator with my wife and four people dressed as Elvis. (I have often wondered if the movie “Honeymoon in Vegas,” which came out in 1992, might not have been inspired by that crazy week at the Las Vegas Hilton.)
With that in mind, you can imagine what my first impression of an ALOA convention was like. After that first convention in 1988, I attended every convention, as an exhibitor, up until 2017. Some were more memorable than others, but for me, nothing ever topped that first convention in 1988. Not even the 2001 convention in Baltimore when a 60-car train, loaded with paper and chemicals, derailed and caught fire in a tunnel that was almost directly under my hotel can compete with my memories of that 1988 ALOA convention! (If you want to learn more about the fire, Google “Howard Street Tunnel Fire.”)
And that brings me up to the ALOA convention in 2023, held at the Orlando Hilton in August. Since it is only a six- to seven-hour drive from Pensacola to Orlando, and I’m now 71 years old, I decided to attend the 2023 convention as an attendee just for the heck of it. I didn’t attend any classes, and I didn’t have anything to sell, but I did have a great time catching up with old friends and basically checking up on what I’ve been missing out on since 2017. I had hoped to make it in time for the kick-off party, but I got a very late start, and didn’t arrive at the hotel until about 1 a.m. I slept in that morning and hit the convention floor in the early afternoon.
From what I had heard, the economic downturn and COVID-19 had really reduced turnout as well as participation from exhibitors. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the show was roughly the same as it was in 2017 as far as size and attendance went. As I strolled around, I saw a lot of familiar faces and a lot of people that I didn’t know or didn’t remember, recognized me. The show was smaller than it was back in 1988, but that is the way that things have been going for all the associations for quite some time. But I was pleased to see that the show was bigger and better than I had remembered. All in all, I think things are improving despite the economy.
As I walked the show floor, I took advantage of some of the special pricing, and ordered some tools and equipment that I had been putting off buying. Among other things, I renewed my subscriptions for my Autel im608 and my AutoProPad at a significant discount. I also took time to talk with reps of some of the manufacturers like Autel, Advanced Diagnostics USA, Kaba Ilco, Keyline and others. Being an automotive locksmith, I really wasn’t all that interested in the commercial hardware being offered, but I did spend a lot of time at the “New Product Showcase,” which was apparently a new feature this year. It was packed with new items, and new technology.
One of my main objectives was to snag as much free literature as I could ‑ things like the STRATTEC catalogs and flyers, the Ilco Car and Truck Cross References, and anything else that I could find on new automotive products. I came home with a bag packed with new literature.
And of course, I had to stop in and see old friends at the Lockmasters, Inc. booth. I was pleased to see that the PUREAuto seminars were still going strong despite the untimely passing of Mark Miller. I also renewed old acquaintances at Southern Lock and Supply Co., and others. Speaking of Southern Lock and Supply, there were quite a few familiar faces there that I had known at Locksmith Resources and Midwest Keyless. They are working hard to make Southern Lock and Supply a competitive force in the automotive locksmith market. In the past, Southern Lock and Supply had been primarily oriented to the residential / commercial hardware market. I look forward to seeing how they handle this new challenge.
After two days of walking the show floor, I departed to take the first real vacation that I have had in years. But as I looked around the exhibit hall one more time, I tried to see the show from the perspective that I had back in 1988. Overall, I was pleased to see that despite the technological changes and economic difficulties of the past couple of decades, the ALOA tradition is still going strong, and I felt a great deal of pride and optimism for the next generation of locksmiths just beginning their professional journey.